Her Story: Ladies In Literature is a special, month-long series on Pop! Goes The Reader in which we celebrate the literary female role models whose stories have inspired and empowered us since time immemorial. From Harriet M. Welsch to Anne Shirley, Becky Bloomwood to Hermione Granger, Her Story: Ladies In Literature is a series created for women, by women as twenty authors answer the question: “Who’s your heroine?” You can find a complete list of the participants and their scheduled guest post dates Here!
About S.K. Ali
S. K. Ali is the author of Saints and Misfits, a finalist for the American Library Association’s 2018 William C.Morris award, and the winner of the APALA Honor Award and Middle East Book Honor Award. This debut, and her second novel, Love from A to Z, were both best YA books of the year as named by many media, including Entertainment Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, and the American Library Association. The Proudest Blue, her picture book co-authored with Ibtihaj Muhammad, was an instant New York Times Bestseller. Along with Aisha Saeed, she’s the co-editor of an anthology of middle grade stories called Once Upon An Eid.
Literary Heroine: The Unknown Drawing Perhaps Known as Layla
She was beautiful and poised and dressed like my mom and the other women at the mosque. I don’t particularly remember the details of her story, just that her actions were wise and that she was a leader.
I found her in a book of Islamic stories at the mosque. As the children of the imam, my siblings and I had to wait for a long time after Sunday school before we could go home. I played with friends, children of others who also worked at the mosque, who also stayed on after all the other kids left, but then… there came a point when even they got to go home.
That’s when I’d read and re-read any and all books available. That’s when I found her, a simple but effective line drawing of a woman in a headscarf and long gown – a magnificent long gown, I should add – with a benevolent smile.
I feel like her name was Layla. That’s what comes to me now. So let’s go with Layla.
Layla was the first time I saw a positive representation of a Muslim woman in fiction. It wasn’t “out there” in the world, approved by those making decisions on who got to shine in stories. Her narrative was only shared in the small world of our Muslim community, and yet, her impact was weighty.
Layla got her own story, nestled among other stories of compassion and bravery and goodness and wit, and she had a face cradled in a beautiful hijab and she got to do great things. And for a long time, she was my heroine.
I borrowed her book from the mosque and pored over her picture and re-read her story many times. I liked her story the best even though there were others that had girls and women in them, because even then, even as a child, I knew that some of the other stories weren’t as kind to women. There was one about an ill-tempered bride who was “trained” by the groom to be “nicer” by the use of an analogy with the mule they were riding on the way home from the wedding.
Nope, I said even back then.
But the Layla story. Now that was different.
Layla was a leader and her advice was sought to settle a problem of injustice. And she delivered a wise solution, all the while looking confident and resplendent in a chic robe with careful design details.
This latter part was really important to me as I had started to notice, even before I began wearing hijab, that one of the reasons my family was met with racism when we went out was due to my mother’s way of dressing. I had started to notice that hijab was not considered pretty, never mind fashionable.
And I wanted to be fashionable. The ‘I-wanna-be-cool” itch had started early for me, and therefore, the pull inside me had started early too: do I choose fashionable or do I choose faith?
It was a hard problem for a young pre-tween.
But then, there was Layla.
Fashionable and faithful. Wise and just. Poised and confident.
You can be all that you want to be, she whispered to me. Insha’Allah.
I nodded back at those simple black strokes that made up her tremendous essence and said, Okay, I’ll try my very best, insha’Allah.
Title Love From A To Z
Author S.K. Ali
Intended Target Audience Young Adult
Genre Contemporary, Romance
Publication Date April 30th 2019 by Salaam Reads / Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Find It On Goodreads ● Amazon ● Chapters ● The Book Depository ● Barnes & Noble ● IndieBound
From William C. Morris Award Finalist S.K. Ali comes an unforgettable romance that is part The Sun Is Also A Star mixed with Anna and the French Kiss, following two Muslim teens who meet during a spring break trip.
A marvel: something you find amazing. Even ordinary-amazing. Like potatoes – because they make French fries happen. Like the perfect fries Adam and his mom used to make together.
An oddity: whatever gives you pause. Like the fact that there are hateful people in the world. Like Zayneb’s teacher, who won’t stop reminding the class how “bad” Muslims are.
But Zayneb, the only Muslim in class, isn’t bad. She’s angry.
When she gets suspended for confronting her teacher, and he begins investigating her activist friends, Zayneb heads to her aunt’s house in Doha, Qatar, for an early start to spring break.
Fueled by the guilt of getting her friends in trouble, she resolves to try out a newer, “nicer” version of herself in a place where no one knows her.
Then her path crosses with Adam’s.
Since he got diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November, Adam’s stopped going to classes, intent, instead, on perfecting the making of things. Intent on keeping the memory of his mom alive for his little sister.
Adam’s also intent on keeping his diagnosis a secret from his grieving father.
Alone, Adam and Zayneb are playing roles for others, keeping their real thoughts locked away in their journals.
Until a marvel and an oddity occurs…
Marvel: Adam and Zayneb meeting.
Oddity: Adam and Zayneb meeting.